Zimmerman and the Concepts of Space and Community

I’ll verge into leftist philosophical navel-gazing, but I can’t help thinking about how Zimmerman perceived his space and “community”.

I put space without quotes, because it is a clear thing. Your space is of differing kinds and degrees. Your room is your own personal space. Your home is somewhat less personal- if you live with other people you share the space outside your room, if you live alone it is still less personal because visitors may enter there. If you live in a building with a locked entrance, that space is shared with your neighbors, who while not necessarily your friends or acquaintances are at least of close socio-economic status. The yard, and then street are more open yet.

The street is really where things become ambiguous. Your neighborhood is, to an extent, your community. But the word “community” is so vague as to be meaningless. The real question is the nature and quality of the space. The street can be very hostile or very benign. Factors affecting this are race, ethnicity, homogeneity, income level, and others. If it is white, or at least non-black, ethnically homogenous, and populated by non-aggressive people, it will be more positive, social, and safe. It can however be social- people know each other- without being positive or safe. I used to deliver pizzas, at one time in a sketchy to bad part of Los Angeles. Black areas were always bad. Mexican American areas varied. I used to go to one street that seemed to be inhabited entirely by illegal aliens and it was always peaceful and I always felt safe. Bad social areas are dominated by loud, aggressive people, gang members, criminals and the mothers of gang members and criminals.

The Retreat at Twin Lakes is a “gated” community. From the pictures it has an automated gate that is opened by an intercom. Anybody who lives in one of these places, or an apartment building with a “locked” gate, knows the gate is a joke. Anybody can get past.

I can think of some exceptions. I used to deliver pizzas, and at one place I worked we delivered to a couple of gated communities with human guarded gates. One was fairly well controlled. The other was strictly controlled. You had to talk to the guard to get in. He had to get specific permission from the house you were going to to let you in. When you were leaving, he had to let you out. I don’t remember what the wall was like, but these people were quite serious about keeping people who did not belong there out. These areas were positive and safe, but not social.

A space is yours to the extent you control it. This control must be actual, not theoretical. A space not controlled may be safe, possible social, but can be no more than neutral. I live in a fairly safe white neighborhood. The street is safe, but not social- I don’t know anybody outside my building- and not controlled, so neutral. It’s safe only because no violent criminals come around. Streets nearby with houses have had some burglary problems, because houses are not very secure. There was an incident of mass car vandalism a few months ago nearby.

So what is The Retreat at Twin Lakes? It’s an illusion, and a dangerous one- at least to George Zimmerman. He perceived the space inside the gates as being controlled, when it was not. Thieves walked in at will. Zimmerman perceived that the community could exercise control over this space through collective action, but even if they had wanted to- there was little interest in neighborhood watch from other residents- it would not likely have been too successful.

“Community” is an idea that Americans like, but have mostly abandoned. They prefer privacy and anonymity much more, because they have been persuaded they need those things. A community of the “Leave It to Beaver” type Zimmerman seems to have yearned for is both social and architectural. People know each other and watch each other’s houses all the time. They exchange information, women especially. Two housewives talking over a waist-high fence used to be a staple of single-panel cartoons, but now we have neither housewives nor waist-high fences. Houses had porches where people sat, surveying the street and other people’s houses. Houses had windows on all sides, and any unusual noise or movement brought people quickly to see. Anyone can come, but anyone unknown or without legitimate business would be questioned immediately. Fences and hedges are low or non-existent, windows are low and often open, and people are often outside. It may seem to be a soft target but people are looking out as well as in, the people inside can see more than people on the outside, and they know more. It’s a risky environment for an interloper.

The Retreat at Twin Lakes has none of those characteristics. During the day it is deserted. When people come home, they go inside and stay there. They don’t look outside and they don’t want people looking at them. The gate may keep vehicles from driving in freely, but it’s low and smooth-topped so anybody not using a walker can almost step over it. Not having the money for a guarded gate, a full-time patrol and a high fence, they control none of the space past their front door.

This is not a problem, as long as it is understood. In Latin America houses are fortresses, shuttered windows and barred doors facing directly onto the sidewalk. A large and fine one has all the gardens, plants and decorations inside- forbidding looking from the outside, lovely and charming from the inside. Robberies in Latin America occur on the street, burglary just isn’t practical, the home is hardened.

The penal system in America is not based on retribution, as leftists so loudly and constantly complain, but on the incapacitation expounded by James Q. Wilson. The criminal isn’t smart enough to figure out that he is locked up because he did something bad and shouldn’t do it any more. That is not the real reason for locking him up. He is locked up so that he is in a controlled space. If he is in the prison, he is not in the street or in your house.

If your house is properly hardened, he can neither be in it, as long as you don’t open the door for people you don’t know and trust. That leaves a space of ambiguity between your front door and the prison gate, which may be occupied by anyone.

The organizing security concept of America is not and has not been community post-Civil Rights era, but isolation. You live where the bad people aren’t. They can come to your area, right up to your front door, but they don’t. If they do, they will not have much trouble taking your stuff or hurting you.

Why don’t we have community? Desegregation, for one. You can’t watch or question minorities in your neighborhood. Community was deliberately disrupted because it threatened those in power. On top of that, people really did want more privacy, to live how the rich lived in their big houses with broad lawns. The rich however had better security, that non-elite whites couldn’t achieve.

A more pernicious aspect to this is that non-elite whites were sold on the idea that they could benefit from privacy. Rich people used privacy to engage in illicit sexual activity and drug use. Middle-class people wanted to live like this too, so they adopted a shuttered suburban anomie that gave them a fleeting taste of the pleasures of the rich without the status, comfort and security not only of a physical but also a social nature that the rich enjoy.

Maybe that is another big part of our disease- non-elites trying to ape the lifestyles of the elite- a veneer of respectability with private moral license. Non-elites lose the most valuable thing they have, community, in return for short-lived and empty pleasures.

That makes the desire for community a very reactionary and fascist thing. What keeps the elite safe is most people don’t want it. George Zimmerman was suffering from a kind of disease- not racism, as the liberals would have it, but nostalgia. But the geographical place that he lived, the housing tract marketed under the grand name The Retreat at Twin Lakes, was in no real way a community.

Real community is what people like Mindweapon, Ryu and Baaltanit are working on. Political activism is a waste of time, since law and politics don’t form a community. Community building with people who aren’t interested, which is what Zimmerman was trying, is a waste of time also.

Zimmerman should have secured the four walls of his house and his vehicle and left it at that. He confused his space and his community, and it got him in a world of hurt.

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About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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6 Responses to Zimmerman and the Concepts of Space and Community

  1. TN says:

    I think Zimmerman has a type of “beautiful loser” thing about him. In his small way he has a shred of nobility, of the tragic. A man not gifted of super strength or agility knowing that he can’t have “community” but doing it anyway. Not to glorify the guy, but this is basically true.

    • He was a good neighbor. He actually did reduce the level of crime in the complex. I hate it when cynicism triumphs over idealism, but that’s what happened here.

      • TN says:

        Very well put. Mestizo or not, George was an idealist. Not long ago he went to bat for a homeless black man who suffered an assault at the hands of a cop’s son. George forged ahead risking getting on the bad side of the cops in his effort to get justice for this man. Did he get media ttention? Barely. Did the aloof sister of this homeless black man recently denounce George as a racist murderer in a pro-Martin rally? Yes. I guess it’s her way of thanking George.

        Go ahead and google Sherman+Ware and Tonetta+Foster and George Zimmerman.

  2. Ryu says:

    It’s hard. I am working on this myself and it will take alot more. Working with other people, and more, living with them is difficult. I have not lived in a real community for many years.

  3. Joe says:

    I’m old enough to remember when there were some real communities in America, except everyone just called them neighborhoods and towns.I think your article is the best one I’ve read about Zimmerman. He was looking for a place to call home, so to speak, and willing to defend it. I give him a lot of credit.

  4. Pingback: Linkage is Good for You: Week of April 15, 2012

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